Tom McCarthy's bold, shirtsleeve-sturdy newsroom drama Spotlight, which shows how Boston Globe reporters exposed the scope of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, is less an elegy for the art and craft of news reporting than a rallying cry. If journalism were really dying, how could it inspire art this vital? Though it's set in 2001 and early 2002 — practically ancient times in the distressing recent history of newspapers -- Spotlight feels both timeless and modern.
New Globe editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), low-key to an almost comical degree, asks his staff if the church's record of protecting sex offenders isn't something the paper should be looking into. The protests and excuses come from all sides, including deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) and longtime reporter and editor Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton), who together lead the paper's Spotlight team, a crew of reporters devoted to long-term investigations. No one wants to tangle with the church. But Baron, seemingly with little more than an arched eyebrow, persuades the Spotlight staff to investigate.
Spotlight is perfectly cast, and the performers melt right into their roles: Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d'Arcy James play the three Spotlight reporters. When I look back on the film years from now, I'll picture McAdams's Pfeiffer, dressed in unflattering pants and an untucked shirt, hoofing to meet a source at a South End café. News reporting means writing, but it also means getting out of the office. You don't crack a story like this one by trolling the Web to see what already-broken news you can repackage.